Sibling Fights Might Be Bad for Kids. What's a Parent to Do?

What Women Really Think
June 18 2013 3:26 PM

Sibling Fights Might Be Bad for Kids. What's a Parent to Do?

Appropriate reaction to him losing her Bakugon, or bullying?

Photo by llike/Shutterstock

Most people with siblings can remember an instance where their arguments escalated to inappropriate levels. I recall slamming my older brother’s door so hard when we were teenagers that I splintered the door frame. Though some sparring is normal, aggression between siblings can have lasting negative effects—so says a new study in the July issue of the journal PediatricsAccording to the New York Times, one-third of the children in a study of more than 3,000 said they were victimized by a sibling at some point in the past year, and the victimized children reported higher levels of anxiety, depression, and anger.

Other studies have shown that sibling conflict occurs every day for 50 percent of young children, and 80 percent of siblings ages 3-17 reported experiencing at least one violent episode with their sister or brother in the year that study evaluated. So what are parents supposed to do? And how do we know what’s detrimental bullying versus just regular sibling bickering? I asked Slate’s resident bullying expert Emily Bazelon, the author of Sticks and Stones, and she said that the way to figure out if fighting between siblings is reaching the level of bullying is to see if there’s a pattern.


According to Bazelon, you should ask yourself, “Is one kid (or group of kids) on a campaign to make another kid miserable? Is the aggression chronic, and one-way, as opposed to mutual, where the power shifts back and forth?” If the answer is yes, then it’s important to talk as a family about what’s going on—because it’s a whole family dynamic. “It’s not about just focusing on the bully or the victim,” Bazelon says.

While this study should certainly inspire parents to keep an eye on the dynamics at play among their children, Bazelon cautions that most kids recover from sibling aggression. “These studies show that there’s a risk of depression and other negative psychological consequences. That means a higher rate, not that everyone experiences it,” she says. “Fortunately, most kids do bounce back. But it’s important to look out for the kids who have a harder time doing that.” So: No need to freak out. Look out for your more psychologically fragile offspring, but don’t break up every argument over Legos.  

Jessica Grose is a frequent Slate contributor and the author of the novel Sad Desk Salad. Follow her on Twitter.



More Than Scottish Pride

Scotland’s referendum isn’t about nationalism. It’s about a system that failed, and a new generation looking to take a chance on itself. 

What Charles Barkley Gets Wrong About Corporal Punishment and Black Culture

Why Greenland’s “Dark Snow” Should Worry You

Three Talented Actresses in Three Terrible New Shows

Why Do Some People See the Virgin Mary in Grilled Cheese?

The science that explains the human need to find meaning in coincidences.


Happy Constitution Day!

Too bad it’s almost certainly unconstitutional.

Is It Worth Paying Full Price for the iPhone 6 to Keep Your Unlimited Data Plan? We Crunch the Numbers.

What to Do if You Literally Get a Bug in Your Ear

  News & Politics
Sept. 17 2014 10:36 AM MacArthur Fellow Alison Bechdel Recounts Telling Her Mother About Her Best-Selling Memoir MacArthur Fellow Alison Bechdel recounts telling her mother about her best-selling memoir.
Sept. 16 2014 4:16 PM The iPhone 6 Marks a Fresh Chance for Wireless Carriers to Kill Your Unlimited Data
The Eye
Sept. 16 2014 12:20 PM These Outdoor Cat Shelters Have More Style Than the Average Home
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 15 2014 3:31 PM My Year As an Abortion Doula
  Slate Plus
Slate Fare
Sept. 17 2014 9:37 AM Is Slate Too Liberal?  A members-only open thread.
Sept. 17 2014 11:06 AM Inside the Exclusive World of Members-Only Clubs
Future Tense
Sept. 17 2014 11:14 AM How Does That Geometry Problem Make You Feel? Computer tutors that can read students’ emotions.
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 17 2014 11:18 AM A Bridge Across the Sky
Sports Nut
Sept. 15 2014 9:05 PM Giving Up on Goodell How the NFL lost the trust of its most loyal reporters.